CEW Women in Beauty: Balancing Trust and Excitement

Karyn Khoury, Estée Lauder.
Karyn Khoury, Estée Lauder.

At the recent CEW Women in Beauty series held in New York, Karyn Khoury, senior vice president, corporate fragrance development worldwide, The Estée Lauder Companies, discussed current consumer needs and trends, and some winning strategies to explore.

In the backdrop of changing fragrance dynamics, Khoury said, “those marketers who find a way to truly reconnect, to reestablish that emotional connection that fragrance has had in the past, have an opportunity to take their brands to new heights.” This, she said, requires a SWOT analysis of one’s portfolio, research, development and adaptation of new materials, molecules and technologies, and an understanding of consumer insights.

Khoury cited as an example the launch of Estée Lauder Sensuous, which “represented a significant evolution at many different levels.” The company did traditional market research, presenting the fragrance to a panel and partnered with an anthropologist who had researched the codes of sensuality in both the United States and France. “The resulting fragrance opened us up to an entirely new consumer … [However,] Estée Lauder’s use of market research depends on the brand. We wouldn’t launch an Estée Lauder scent without market research, but we don’t do consumer testing for Tom Ford Private Label or for Aerin Lauder’s Private Collection fragrances or for MAC. You need to balance it.”

However, today’s consumer mindset is uncertain. And yet in this uncertainty, Khoury sees an opportunity. “You look at every introduction for its relevance to this new consumer mindset and the likelihood of its return on investment … not only in terms of profitability, but in terms of brand image.” In addition, as consumers reach out to things they “know and trust,” Khoury said the popularity of the classics will increase somewhat over the coming 18 months. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t introduce new fragrances…you need to balance trust with excitement, old and new.”

In order to create one new fragrance every six months, Khoury conducts “blue sky meetings,” spending half a day with each of Estée Lauder’s key suppliers every other week to share thoughts and see samples of things not related to any existing project briefs. “I want them to show me what is in the bottom drawer,” Khoury said, “maybe a raw material that they are not quite sure what to do with. Actually, what later became Sensuous started from one of those meetings four years ago.”

As for current fragrance trends, Khoury said, “In women’s scent, there is a new focus on woods and woody fragrances … [Also,] the market is ripe for change, for stimulation. Perhaps it will inspire new ways of expressing nature, redefining femininity and further iterations on sensuality.”

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